Ah, French. This time not about “the French” people, but about their oh-so-beautiful language that can in turn move us deeply or confound us entirely – often at the same time.
Granted, I make as many mistakes as the next expat (ranging from funny to outright embarrassing), but the question I’m asked most about the language is this: Did you know French before moving to France?
The answer is no, but more importantly, this question most often comes from someone who has studied the language themselves. And the real translation is this, “How the heck did you do this & not lose your mind?” (It’s all in the eyes) Then we commiserate for about 5 minutes about all the “methods” we’ve tried to learn French. Thankfully, I’ve moved on from marathon sessions with my grammar books at the local cafe – no one’s meant to eat that many croissants.
Basically, I found there’s no easy route to French study, but there are several fun ways to spice-up your time in le language lab. These tips were originally published on Le Petit France Blog, and are what I still use for my French studies.
1. Buy grammar books that fit your learning style
This tip may seem obvious, but I find the hardest thing for me to overcome is lack of motivation when it comes to studying a language. I really need the learning process to be fun & as uncomplicated as possible. Grammar, while normally anything but fun, becomes quite unbearable when books are poorly designed, full of complicated explanations, or just too long. I made a habit of spending lots of quality time at Barnes & Noble and researching their French section
-For absolute beginner French, I like French in 10 Minutes a Day (author: Kershul). This is an interactive series with stickers to label things around the house, a CD-Rom with supplemental exercises, & lots of bright, colorful pages with basic grammar and vocabulary. This book really got me excited at the start of my studies & helped me focus on small achievements.
-Moving to the next level, I’ve found the Practice Makes Perfect: Complete French Grammar (author: Heminway) book very helpful. It’s quite a “no frills” grammar series, but the layout is easy to follow, the explanations are clear, and the exercises are manageable. There is also a French Verb Tenses book & one on French Vocabulary in the series.
2. Overcome boredom with a podcast.
I’ve become a real fan of using podcasts for both beginning and advancing language study. Again, they add an element of fun & you have the opportunity to a hear the language from a native speaker – plus you can take them anywhere.
-I’ve really enjoyed Learn French with Alexa. You can download the first 15 lessons for free on iTunes & then there are subscription options on her website: http://learnfrenchwithalexa.com/.
-Louis at Daily French Pod also has several worthwhile podcasts (also available on iTunes) which help increase vocabulary by listening to everyday French conversations followed by detailed explanations by Louis. Louis has subscription options at: http://www.dailyfrenchpod.com/.
3. Buy a fashion or cooking magazine in French.
Even if you don’t understand every expression or vocabulary word, getting your hands on a French magazine can be a great way to have some fun with the language & see its practical uses. I like to read through an article to get the gist, highlight words I don’t know, and then note their definitions for my vocabulary list. Skimming through Marie Claire or reading up on the latest food trends doesn’t feel like studying, and you can pick up some good cultural insights in the process.
4. Watch movies, or podcast videos, in French.
This tip is quite universal for language study, but I think it remains a tried & true method for getting exposure to French and increasing your listening comprehension. Going through a series of films like Blue, White, & Red, (the Three Colors Trilogy) or spending some time with quirky Amélie can help train your ear to differentiate all those lovely, rolling vowel sounds. Turning on the French language captions helps me to see where the verbs end and the nouns begin.
5. Take a break from it all for 2-3 weeks.
It might sound a bit counter-intuitive, but spending a short amount of time away from language studies can allow you to digest all that you’ve learned and reflect on what you need to do to improve. I had one teacher call this the “marinating process”; letting what you’ve learned marinate (food references always work well in France) for a bit until you’re ready to get out there & put your savoir-faire into action.